In honor of the American Society for Clinical Pathology’s Medical Laboratory Professionals Week, Invitae sat down with our laboratory directors for a Q&A about their experiences—from what brought them to the lab in the first place to what makes it all worthwhile. Anne Deucher, Martin Powers, and Adam Rosendorff keep the labs running at Invitae, overseeing everything from lab validations to final test result reviews.
When did you first realize you wanted to dedicate your career to the laboratory?
Martin Powers: For me, it was very early in medical school that I realized I was more interested in why people get sick than in treating them to make them better. Studying and the practicing pathology allowed me to focus on the whys and hows, and on achieving the accurate diagnoses required for proper treatment.
Anne Deucher: When I first started medical school, I had no idea that you could specialize in clinical pathology. But the first day I walked into the lab, I knew I was home. That was probably for the same reason Marty mentioned: I really enjoyed the why behind disease processes. I also enjoyed being in the lab, where I could analyze quantitative information while still having a role in clinical care.
Adam Rosendorff: I’ve always loved lab work. My interest started when I was about four years old, when I would take everything liquid in the house and mix it together to see what would happen. As I grew up, my experiments became much more useful. I spent a summer working in my dad’s cousin’s lupus lab at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and, once I got into medical school, I worked in a lab virtually every summer. In fact, I liked it so much that I didn’t even do a residency so that I could work in the lab full-time. I eventually decided to go back to clinical work, completing a residency in clinical pathology as way to focus my laboratory training on patient care.
What do you most enjoy about Lab Week?
Anne: Labs are an integral part of patient care, but we are completely behind the scenes. The patients usually don’t notice us and sometimes we’re not even recognized by the clinical care team. So Lab Week is great because it encourages everyone to stop and recognize the people in the lab whose very important role in clinical care might otherwise go unseen.
Adam: I’ve been very impressed by the dedication of our laboratory staff, and their willingness to work late hours and into the weekends. At the same time, as Anne said, lab work is one of these things where, if everything goes right, you really don’t hear anything. So bringing these folks some visibility and celebrating their hard work is really important for building morale. Lab Week is a great way to recognize these folks.
Martin, what’s your favorite part of working in a lab?
Martin: My favorite part of working in a lab is the ability to apply technologies—in our case, very high-throughput, cutting-edge technologies—to make a difference in people’s lives. It’s the fact that what we’re doing is centered on the patient that makes it worthwhile. Even more than that, the genetic information we’re providing will affect not just one person’s life, but, if we find an inherited genetic variation, the lives of a whole family.
One of the themes of this year’s Lab Week is “lab heroes.” Anne, who is your lab hero?
Anne: During my residency, I had the most dedicated mentor in University of California, San Francisco’s Department of Hematology. What truly differentiated her was her belief that everything that we did was “for the sake of the patient.” All decisions we made and all our efforts were to enable the best possible medical care. I still work to apply that perspective every day.
Adam, you joined Invitae’s lab team just a few months ago. What’s the most fulfilling experience you’ve had so far?
Adam: For me, it’s been interacting with research scientists and being able to translate their work into a real product that can be used for patient care. As Anne mentioned, it really is all about the patient. It’s very gratifying to see something you worked on in the validation phase be made available in the doctor’s office.
Laboratory professionals clearly take their work—and the ways in which it affects people’s lives—seriously. But they also like to have a little fun, and often creatively name their equipment. What’s your favorite name at Invitae?
Anne: In the 1990s, I was a big fan of the television show Full House. So I very much enjoy the sequence analyzer named Uncle Jesse. That always brings a smile to my face.
Martin: Invitae has labs in both San Francisco and in Santiago, Chile. In the Chile lab, they’ve named equipment after San Francisco neighborhoods: The Mission, SOMA, and so on. It’s a nice way to tie the labs together.
Adam: My favorite is the Royale with Cheese.
Approximately how many references to Breaking Bad have you endured over the years?
Adam: Truthfully, not that many. But we should definitely name something Heisenberg.